Money For Nothing And Your Clicks For Free

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Do real people really want to have a relationship with a brand? Here are some of the many questions that brands are asking of Social Media…

Is Social Media the best place for all brands?

Much like any other media channel (TV, print radio, out of home, etc…), your mileage may vary. There is no "best place" for all brands. Each brand must define their strategy first, and from there figure out the tactics and channels that will best help them to reach their business goals. The better question is: can Social Media help a brand reach their business objectives? Whether it’s B2C, B2B, a small impulse buy or a product/service that is sold over a long period of time with a hefty price tag, I have rarely not seen an opportunity to use Social Media – in one form or another – as one of the many cogs in the Marketing machine.

What are brands to do in a future where the old media rules won’t apply?

When I talk about the concept behind "burn the ships" or "CTRL-ALT-DEL" many people confuse this with a present/future where the old rules do not apply. This is not the case. Personally, I’m a big fan of the saying, "everything is ‘with’ not ‘instead of’." Brands will have to leverage whatever media that is available to them to reach their audience, consumers and community. The point of "CTRL-ALT-DEL" is to rethink using a traditional media model in a new media channel that is so fundamentally different from the other channels. It’s like putting a square peg in a round hole. All too often, this is what Marketers do: they take whatever they have done in the past and they try to make it work in a new channel rather than doing the hard work of defining what advertising and marketing means within the new media.

Do individuals want a "relationship" with a brand?

Some people do and some people don’t. But, that’s not really the whole benefit of Social Media and what it can do for brands. Having any semblance of a relationship with a brand is not the same as someone following a brand on Twitter. Building a relationship takes times and it’s well beyond a Facebook campaign to get there. That being said, you can do many different things with Social Media like sharing content, responding to inquiries, being helpful in general, and even by publishing content (in text, images, audio and video). Now, if you do all of those things – and if you’re interesting and engaging at it – you may be able to build some semblance of community. If you can turn those community members into a long-term relationship, that’s an admirable and impressive endgame, but it’s not the only reason to engage with Social Media.

Some brands have had a negative experience with Social Media, should that be a concern?

Most of the negative experiences that brands have had with Social Media happen because they are trying to broadcast and/or advertise in the channel. They are, essentially, trying to spam the network, lie to it, or pull a fast one over it. Those games won’t work on this playing field. Social Media is about real interactions between real human beings, and most brands do not have the Marketing culture and organization to transcend, so they use their old tactics in this new channel with failed efforts. This is where the fundamental struggle lies. Brands that are helpful, transparent and active do thrive in Social Media and – much like humans – are more than fine with the occasional mistake, foible and fumble (we all make them).

The number of people active in Social Media still seems small/insignificant, do I really need to care and pay attention to this?

Social Media is not about "how many" people you are connected to, but rather "who" you are connected to. Instead of focusing on how many people are now following you on Twitter, why not start by digging into who is currently following you, why they are doing so and what you can do to help them out? In terms of the raw numbers, ask yourself this: who do you know who is not online? The numbers, demographics and psychographics speak for themselves. Beyond the philosophy of focusing on "who," it’s still wise to keep in mind that Facebook alone is closing in on 500 million users. That doesn’t feel insignificant at all.

Is Social Media just another way for consumers to get something for nothing from brands?

Don’t let a few rotten apples spoil the whole experience. Yes, Social Media will highlight those looking for everything (and more) for free. We all know what these types of folks look like (and what they sound like), and the average consumer has become sophisticated enough to filter out the kooks and weirdoes screaming for freebies or demanding a brand’s blood. Social Media is only a huge Marketing time suck if you focus on advertising and promotions that lure out those types of consumers. For those that are trying to ethically build community and engagement, they do wind up spending much more time with their consumers, and that time does lead to a very powerful (and scalable) form of testimony and trust. Don’t forget that you don’t build a community when you have something to say. You start building a community long before that moment in time, so that when you do have something valuable and relevant to say that there is a community there to nurture it and support it.

Social Media does not have to be about getting people to have a relationship with a brand.

Social Media can also be a channel and platform to share and connect. If that leads to a relationship, then it must mean your brand really does have something to say, and that people really care about hearing that message and sharing it with those that matter to them.

Now it’s your turn, what do you think?

This Blog post was inspired by the Blog post, The Brand/Friend Question, from The Marketing Blog and by the Marketing Magazine article, Feeling Unsocial.


  1. Q: Do individuals want a “relationship” with a brand?
    A: Yes. Here is why I think why: If there is one of two things Maslow though us, is that people want a relationship. This is a basic drive, one that is so to our core, that it keeps us (usually) from eating our children, If you know what I mean. People choose brands to express their identity through brands because of what the brands represent. That relationship they build with a brand is a direct product of our basic drive, (to want a relationship). I think this might also be why transparency is so important. Afterall, when you have a relationship with someone and that person completely lied about who she was, you’d be pissed off I reckon.
    What do you think? And where does a persons image come in? I wonder…
    Thanks for being awesome Mitch!

  2. Thank you for the interesting article. I would have rephrased the question ‘do individuals want a relationship with a brand’ to ‘do brands want a relationship with individuals’? LOL
    Some brands do foster ongoing relationships – I think this can be especially true in the quick service restaurant industry where people come back over and over again to the same business (unlike a one time purchase of some major large item). But it does seem like there must be some huge time sacrifice to really engage social media as a brand – I’m amazed that Starbucks has @Starbucks @StarbucksJob @MyStarbucksIdea all actively tweeting – Seems like a huge time investment. I wonder now and then if it is worth it for them. But I see brands fostering relationships with ordinary people so it must be worth it: Everything from Subway, to LionBrandYarn is using social media.
    But to answer your question from the perspective of the customer: I absolutely think that most want to feel engaged by a brand in social media. It makes the customer feel values when LionBrand tweets back, (from your knitting twit pic) nice scarf, which yarn?’ (that’s just a hypothetical). Then when you’ve gone to your local craft store and you’re picking out a yarn, you might think of that LionBrand experience.
    Am I really the first comment? That can’t be! Thanks for allowing me to ramble a little here. Don’t really think I have the answer.

  3. Plainly speaking do people want relationships with brands – I would say a resolute no!
    They may however want a relationship with an individual who is significant within the company behind the brand, as surely the main point of social media is to be able to cut through the usual brand hype and deal with things on a more personal level.
    So if you use social media to create a direct touch point between someone who actually influences the direction of the company (rather than some low level SM “expert”) then it is possible for people to feel included and on the inside track with a company whose product or service they value. This is why social media has so much potential for small entrepreneurial businesses. Unfortunately currently so much of the discussion is being framed by the marketing departments of major companies and the consultants desperate to be seen as a thought leader in order to get hired by them.
    In many ways social media is potentially the most democratic thing that has ever happened to business, so that companies that are real and authentic can have a more level playing field than those that have grown to the size of hiring a marketing department and typically become brand obsessed.

  4. I never thought of applying the love/belonging level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to brands or social media — interesting.
    I agree that people choose certain brands to express their own identity and values, but I don’t think that form of expression stems from having a relationship with a brand (I could be wrong, though). I think identifying with a brand has more to do with what the brand stands for. I do, however, believe a relationship with a brand would strengthen self-identity development.
    I wonder what Maslow would think..

  5. I agree, Chris. I love connecting with the people behind the brand. it’s a great way to humanize an organization — especially a larger one.
    I do think, though, that connecting to people within a brand creates a relationship between you and the brand itself.

  6. Heh. Lets throw in a bit of Jüng then.
    “I think identifying with a brand has more to do with what the brand stands for.”
    Makes you wonder which customer need needs to be fulfilled in order for a brand to create brand-diffirentation. Think about it. πŸ˜€
    Isn’t a brand not also distinguished by their own individuality and needs expressed through a universal archetype? Of course people identify with what a brand stands for, but that is kind of the point, no? So this is the difference between identity and image? Is this then the art of brand building?

  7. I agree but that is not the way that most companies are going about it. They are still leading with their concept of their own brand, which is often how want the world to see them rather than the reality. Surely one of the most enticing elements of being able to engage individually using SM is to be able to drop all the pretense and find out what is real (or not). I’m of the opinion that authenticity often gets crushed by the desire for brand standards, so when you are dealing with someone presenting themselves as a “brand” then it is a bit like being on a date with someone who really hasn’t got much more personality than their online profile. You may as well have dated their website!
    When we get stuck with the brand being the dominant part of the identity the individuality and authenticity is necessarily sacrificed more often than not, which seems to me to be anathema to what actually makes SM so compelling and fresh.
    Anyway, thoroughly enjoy your blog.

  8. From my perspective is “it depends”. The “depends” is based on the level of risk involved. From my experience – consumers will either seek one of two exchanges – a transactional exchange or a relational exchange. As the risk increases – people seek to mitigate this risk through a variety of mechanisms – time, trust and reputation being three highly interconnected dimensions. Based on my background – there are three major categories that people seek to have relationships with – banks, real-estate agents and automobile companies – because they represent three traditionally high risk areas (my money, my house and my car). I don’t seek to have a relationship with the Mr Big I bought at 7-11 because if it tastes like crap I will throw it out and move on…
    PS. Mitch – I saw you speak yesterday in Calgary. Great show.

  9. I think your point about community is very clear its about how your brand wants to be known, not necessarily that you have this great product that you all must buy. Most of the time people are buying into the ethos or image and the product itself is more of an after thought. People know what they want to buy, most of the time they just need to feel good about doing it.

  10. “Relationship” is one of those fuzzy, corporate-centred words that sounds great in the boardroom, but gets laughter when actual customers hear it. “Yeah right, a relationship with my dish soap.”
    That’s like saying “do you want a relationship with democracy?” Duh. Democratic governments OWE ME a relationship – but if they need to talk about it, it shows me they just don’t get it.
    Social media allows customers another tool to get information from, hold accountable, and generally take some control of the brands of which they are the ultimate owners.
    More on my blog later. Thanks for the brain food!

  11. Any time a brand can connect with its customers on any level it’s a good thing. Even if it’s connecting with a customer who currently hates you, it gives you an opportunity to learn something about your brand and possibly turn a hater into a brand enthusiast. And the possibilities once you’ve made those connections and started building those communities is endless.

  12. Connecting is not the same as having a “relationship.” I think we’re all in agreement about brands connecting with consumers, the bigger question (at least to me) is: do individuals really want to have a relationship with a brand and is that even possible?… and I mean beyond sleeping with the Maytag Man πŸ˜‰

  13. The cynic in me says that people want a relationship with a brand for a reason – a deal, a freebie, to be spotlighted by the brand in some way. I don’t think that they want a relationship ‘just because’.
    I believe that it’s possible to have brand/consumer relationships, and the best examples I’ve seen of that are ones in which a brand becomes a resource, a ‘go-to’ for information (especially information that isn’t coming solely from the brand).
    Interesting question, for sure!

  14. Derek
    You may be right for a proportion of the people but certainly not everyone. How do you explain the whole rumors sites that exist around companies like Apple, Audi, etc. Those people are interested in being “in the know” about what the company is doing next, even if they are not hearing directly from the company itself. it becomes a community of shared interest. Often the corporate product release or PR line gets in the way of that.
    My belief is that that if people do want to have a relationship with a brand ( see my post above) then it is an informal one based upon a personal connection and two way flow of ideas and information. This is my problem with the whole brand concept because it is a one sided view of the world, rather than an exchange. There are already a huge numbers of channels for one sided information flow (Ads, DM, websites, etc.). What makes SM different is that opportunity for a two way street. If you ignore it then you have lost the soul of the medium.

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